They packed up and shipped out and left us to watch the house. Mail, recycling, dusting. Bring in the papers, take down the Christmas lights. Throw the coffee grounds on the plants, won’t you? We hadn’t had two weeks together in the same place — consecutively — in years. It was just me, Megan, and the dog.
Stunning gifts arrive in inauspicious packages. This one looked a lot like a 13 year old Dotson with a bad bladder. Us, the motley crew never trusted to run the house, out there in the wake of the holidays, running the place. The arrangement lacked the sentimentality of a homecoming — it wasn’t the house of our childhood — but maybe that was for the best. My sister and I walked up the stairs like exterminators, feeling the lack of give beneath our feet. They were still being broken in, without any telling creaks. Surely it was for the best. It would be far harder to tend to the shell of what was once great — once formative. It would feel a bit like decay.
We turned to activities to fill the days. Sweep the pantry of its former glories. Toss out all the circulars that had been kept for fire kindling, but instead piled into a cascading Mount Olympus of ads for out of season blueberries. When we weren’t organizing, compiling, and compacting, we were traveling. We looked for little haunts — field trips — to break up the bleak January gray. It was that brutal type of Chicago cold that cuts into you like clean razorblades.
We started chasing sunrises like bingo squares, and that’s how we ended up in the parking garage of Rush University Medical Center. Me the passenger, Megan the driver, two foggy, uncaffeinated minds endlessly circling the notion that there might be somewhere better, a little further. Maybe somewhere less windy. Our cylinders were grinding, and we knew it. So we parked without paying. From that roof, we watched the sun fail to come up. It slipped into the sky, an Irish goodbye over Greektown. The fog made it seem like we were back in San Francisco. Everything misty, cold, damp.
Undeterred, we drove north — inbound Kennedy in local parlance — and ended up at the Wormhole on Milwaukee. I sandwiched myself into the arm crease of one of the couches, and hoped the coffee I poured down would beat back the shivers. We’d never been there before and walked out with almost an entire punch card stamped — nothing merited by one drink each. The barista looked like someone I dated before I cared about punchcards.
For the flicker of a few weeks, we lived quietly, the way you do with someone you implicitly trust. To carry the dog out and in, to pull the laundry out, then in, were just routines in a current of many; none were notably arduous. There was an air of undisputed certainty that the coffee would always made and deadbolt always locked. That’s what happens when you love someone more than you love yourself. You do ten thousand tiny things to make sure they feel safe.
Downshifting from the heightened panic of December, in our last days as West suburban wardens, we found our way back to forgotten rhythms. Maybe we were looking to bring back some semblance of awareness, as if kicking our limbs lightly was invitation enough for the tingling to return. To come replace the numbness. On the last Saturday, we stood in the parking lot of Our Lady of the Angels, losing all feeling in our feet. Counting potatoes. Tying bags. Being something more than dissatisfied. Being useful, if nothing else.
I flew back to New York with enough gas in the tank to make it through 14 months of a job I would love more than anything, and that would fray every single one of my seams. It would grease my gears from grinding, and drain the feeling from my extremities. In the times of the latter, I would call my other housekeeper. Both of us in places that we weren’t certain would become home, I trusted she could declutter the wires, for a little while.
Mackenzie is a writer and illustrator based in Los Angeles who currently writes for television and podcasting. Her chapbooks Alms Basket For Your Heart (Variant Lit) and Bento Box (Kelsay) are out now. She believes bagels heal most wounds.